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Who doesn’t love a good off-roading experience? Getting out in the fresh air, crawling over rocks, gunning it through the mud…there’s nothing like it!
But having a good off-roading experience requires a little planning and preparation on your part. And that planning and preparation should include a thorough inspection of a variety of items and systems before you head out on the trail.
Off-Road Checklist: Make Sure the 4×4 System is Working
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Obviously, the 4×4 or 4WD system in your rig is one of the most important components for off-roading. Before you hop in and blaze down the trail, quickly put your vehicle in 4WD to ensure that it engages. Then reverse the process and disengage the 4WD system. Also test out those lockers while you’re at it!
This literally takes five seconds, yet it can save you a mountain of headaches later on. Discovering that there’s a problem with your vehicle’s 4WD in your driveway is far better than discovering that it’s not working when you’re 20 miles down the trail. Make it part of your off-road checklist for each and every trip.
Have the Steering, Wheel Bearings, Ball Joints, and Driveshaft Inspected
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Though some of you might have the tools and skill level to inspect the steering system, wheel bearings, ball joints, and driveshaft, most of us don’t. Working on these components must be done correctly. If not, you run serious risk of component failure which could lead to a wreck and injuring or killing yourself or others. So, don’t be a cheapskate or a hero – have your rig inspected by a certified mechanic if you aren’t one yourself.
Off-Road Checklist: Check the Fluids and Top Them Off
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Again, before you head out, pop the hood and do a quick inspection of your vehicle’s fluids. Check the coolant and oil, brake fluid and power steering fluid, filters, ATF and gear oil, and windshield washer fluid. Not only should you look for any signs of leakage, but you should also top off any fluids that are looking a little low.
Inspect the Belts and Hoses
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While you have the hood up, take a peek around the engine bay and inspect your engine’s belts and hoses.
Specifically, add an inspection of the lower radiator hose and the upper radiator hose to your off-road checklist. Look closely for any splits or cracks. Also look for any broken or rusted out clamps and replace them as needed.
Additionally, take a good, long look at the serpentine belt. Cracks can form along the sides of the belt and down the middle of the belt as well. These belts should be replaced every five years or so, so if you aren’t sure how old it is, you might go ahead and replace it, then take note of when the replacement was made.
It’s also a good idea to put some spare belts and hoses in your rig for emergencies.
Off-Road Checklist: Test Electrical Components
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Turn on your headlights, fog lights, your light bar, brake lights…test them all out. Again, finding blown bulbs or other issues with your lighting is much better to do in your driveway than on the trail.
While you’re at it, test out your radio (the one you use to communicate with other people…and your music radio too I suppose!) and your winch too.
How are Your Tires?
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Have a look at your tires and inspect them for wear. If there is any question about the condition of your tires, it’s probably time to get new rubber. Look particularly close at the sidewall of the tires for cracking and at the tread to see if there are any signs of uneven wear.
Next, have a look at the tread depth. To have good traction on the trail, you’ll want between 4/32nds of an inch and 6/32nds of an inch on your mud tires.
If your tires look good to go from a condition standpoint, make sure each one is properly inflated. In my case, I inflate the tires to the recommended PSI for highway driving, and then once I’m at the trailhead, I air down. You should do the same.
There are lots of other items you should have on your checklist, but these will get you going in the right direction. Be safe and have fun!